Coping With Lupus Chest Pain
Many people with lupus often experience lupus chest pain, which is known as myocarditis. It can be very scary for lupus patients (knowing we are at an increased risk for having a heart attack or stroke), but once you know how to identify it, you can feel a little bit more empowered.
Myocarditis is the inflammation of the muscle tissue of your heart, which can cause pain and rapid heartbeat. The symptoms can be not only mistaken for a heart attack, but also for a blood clot that has moved to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
The first time many people experience it, they rush to the hospital fearing the worst.
Anna's Experience With Lupus Chest Pain
Back in 2008, when I was living on my own, I was taken to the hospital after experiencing this type of lupus chest pain and was told I might have a blood clot in my lungs. When I asked if I would die, I was told it was a distinct possibility.
This kind of experience only ups your lupus anxiety and makes this issue even harder to deal with. But once your doctor can determine you are not in severe danger, you can figure out where to go from there.
Although inflammation of the heart sounds pretty scary, it surprisingly isn’t anything to worry about. Just like any other part of your body becomes inflamed with lupus flares, your heart can as well.
What to Do When Experiencing Lupus Chest Pain
If you are experiencing lupus chest pain, it is important to communicate this to your doctor so you can have the proper testing done. In some lupus patients, heart issues do occur, so it essential that if you are experiencing pain, your doctor can rule out all other health issues before diagnosing you with myocarditis.
Often, these episodes of chest pain come on suddenly and without warning, which can make you think you are having a heart attack. However, if your doctor has previously cleared you and you know you are susceptible to it, this issue can sometimes be solved by taking NSAIDs, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.
If the issue becomes serious, you may take prescription NSAIDs, or if it is in conjunction with a flare, steroids may be in order.
It is important that you speak to your doctor about your episodes and keep them updated as to the pattern of when they occur and for how long. Myocarditis can also be a result of a viral or bacterial infection, so it is vital that your doctor stays on top of what exactly is causing the issue.
Symptoms of Myocarditis
Myocarditis may not actually cause symptoms if it is in its early stages – meaning that if your inflammation is minor, you may not even know that you have myocarditis!
However, once your inflammation has worsened and myocarditis becomes more severe, you are likely to notice some of its symptoms. The symptoms can vary, depending on the cause of myocarditis, but common symptoms include:
- Chest pain, the hallmark symptom
- Irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias; arrhythmias associated with myocarditis are typically rapid
- Shortness of breath. Shortness of breath may be experienced with activity or at rest
- Fluid retention of the lower extremities, meaning that you will notice swelling in your legs and feet
- Symptoms of a viral infection, which may include body aches, headaches, sore throat, diarrhea, joint pain, and fever
Treatment of Myocarditis
Typically, the best thing that you can do is to treat your lupus! Because the myocarditis is associated with generalized inflammation, treating lupus as prescribed by your doctor will often improve the myocarditis.
In mild cases, myocarditis improves and resolves on its own without treatment anyway. Rest, and occasionally an antiviral medication may be prescribed.
However, in more severe cases, your physician may opt to prescribe medication to assist with the healing process. Intravenous (IV) medications may treat an infection. Medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors allow the blood vessels to relax, thus allowing the blood to flow more smoothly. Angiotension II receptor blockers (ARBs) work similarly. Beta blockers can help to treat heart failure and arrhythmias. Diuretics reduce sodium and fluid retention.
There are also surgically implanted devices that can be utilized in extreme cases of myocarditis.
Complications of Myocarditis
Although myocarditis is not always a cause for alarm if you have lupus (because treating inflammation, in general, will often improve the myocarditis symptoms), if you do not treat your lupus or seek medical attention when symptoms are severe, a number of complications may arise.
These complications may include:
- Heart failure. Heart failure can occur because myocarditis can damage the muscles of the heart, meaning that the heart cannot pump effectively.
- Sudden cardiac death. Although an extreme example, severe arrhythmias can cause cardiac arrest.
- Heart attack and stroke. If your heart’s muscles are not pumping effectively, blood can also pool in the heart. The blood that pools in the heart can cause blood clots – and if the blood clot passes and gets stuck in the heart’s artery, it can result in a heart attack. If the clot passes through the heart and reaches the brain, it can result in a stroke.
Keep in mind that these are extreme cases; however, it is good to be aware of the possible complications.